Kujang, April 15: South Korean steelmaker Posco’s effort to garner public support for its 12-million tonne steel project and a port came cropper this morning when thousands of villagers opposed to the steel plant boycotted a public hearing that would have paved the way for an environmental approval for the Rs 52,000 crore project.
The few hundred who could make it, though, lambasted the government and the company for not organising it “nearer” the affected site.
The hearing was organised under the Environmental Protection Act to allow a vent to popular objection to the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) report on the first phase of the plant and a port to be set up by the company. The written/oral objections will be sent to the Union ministry of environment and forests for obtaining an environmental clearance.
But the show turned out to be a wet blanket after more than 20,000 people from the three affected gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Nuagaon boycotted the hearing organised at Bana Behari High School of Kujanga dubbing it a “farce”.
“For us, it is useless. The hearing should have been held at a place closer to the affected site, not at a place 20 km away. Besides, the notification for was not displayed beforehand as it should have been done,” said Abhay Sahu of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti sitting at his home in Dhinkia, the epicentre of the protest.
Sanjukta Mantri, another villager, echoed Sahu’s sentiments. “It’s needless drama. What is the point of holding the public hearing when the administration is ensuring that few people get to attend it,” she said.
The villagers also seemed to be scared of the heavy security bandobast near their villages since last week. Since morning, when the hearing started, more policemen, armed with metal detectors, started pouring in and those attending the meet were being frisked with metal detectors before being sent to the shamiana, the hub of all activities.
“With more than 70 cases lodged against our people on flimsy charges, did the administration think that we would attend the public hearing' They (the company and the state government) just wanted to get over with it as quickly as possible,” Mantri further said.
The 20-odd people who managed to speak in the hearing said that the project would mean losing their livelihood and increasing pollution. The hearing abruptly ended when villagers rose to spoke about the pollution that the project may bring. She was stopped from spelling out her fears by a group of “pro-Posco” youths.